13 Jan 2011

Squatter houses, trees battered by gale force winds in Vanuatu

9:58 am on 13 January 2011

The capital of Vanuatu is being battered by galeforce winds from a tropical cyclone, while communications have been cut to other affected areas.

Cyclone Vania is about 50 kilometres north west of Tanna and is intensifying with wind speeds of 95 kilometres an hour close to the centre.

The National Disaster Management Office says a red alert has now been issued for all of Tafea province which means people are advised to stay indoors, avoid the ocean and listen to the radio.

A spokesman for the office, Esrom Molisa says communications have now broken down to the province.

But earlier there were reports of minor damage to food crops and some flooding of rivers and lowlying areas, while a transmitter was also down.

Esrom Molisa says the capital, Port Vila is also now feeling the force of the cyclone

"Right now in the morning we still have strong gale force winds in Port Vila. We also have some trees falling down on the roads, and maybe some of the houses the squatters, also have blown off."

Esrom Molisa says they hope to be able to better assess the damage later in the morning.

Fiji Meteorological Service Tropical Cyclone Forecaster Misa Elefunaki says Cyclone Vania has moved at less than five knots in the last few hours.

The projection is for Tropical Cyclone Vania to gradually turn into a more southwesterly movement and its going to maintain the southwest movement over the next 24 to 48 hours.

Misa Elefunaki says Cyclone Vania should be in close proximity of the main island of New Caledonia from around midnight tonight.

Meanwhile, the French High Commission in Noumea has upgraded the cyclone warning to orange for the Loyalty Islands, where Vania is expected to hit this afternoon.

This means all businesses and schools have been ordered to stay closed. People are advised to seek shelter or stay indoors.

Boats are to be secured and people are advised to stay away from coastal areas that could be affected by a storm surge.

The main island is still on pre-alert.